Is the PR PM’s luck about to run out? Probably not, but he’s in for a nerve-wracking four months says Steve Beauchampé.
There is something very satisfying about observing Prime Minister David Cameron on the receiving end of a hostile Tory media as he attempts to negotiate new terms for Britain’s continued membership of the European Union. This is a man very used to getting his own way, used to having and enjoying that same Tory media supporting his attacks not only on political opponents but on the poor and vulnerable, the defenceless, the voiceless and the marginalised, exaggerating and inflating his pronouncements in the process.
Born into wealth, married into even more wealth, luxuriating in self-assurance and a veneer of charm, Cameron regularly dismisses legitimate concern and criticism of his government with a string of political catch phrases, jibes, insults and vacuous rhetoric. He does this not as a sideshow, but as a core trait of his political modus operandi. The antitheses of straight talking, honest politics, David Cameron hides his aversion to the truth and avoidance of detail behind an eager and often factually inaccurate castigation of political opponents safe in the knowledge that public interest in the minutiae of political discourse is too small to ever hold his claims to account.
Having used fear and scare tactics in large measure to help secure both the 2014 Scottish devolution referendum and 2015 General Election, predictably Cameron is doing so once again for the forthcoming EU referendum, even before its date is confirmed. The 2014 campaign involved an assault on his opponents from every section of the British establishment and international political allies.
This time round Prince William has already made a dutiful intervention, US and European leaders likewise and we can probably expect David Beckham, Adele and that English bloke whizzing round in the International Space Station to be asked to help out sooner or later. An ‘out’ vote would make Cameron’s continued Prime Ministership untenable and leave his reputation and legacy in tatters, whilst Chancellor George Osborne, Cameron’s chosen heir to the Conservative Party crown, and staunch supporter of Remain, would likely also have to resign.
The great irony is that once again David Cameron is dependent upon his political foes to deliver a vital victory and personal salvation. With Cameron incapable of securing enough votes amongst Tory supporters, it was Labour and the Liberal Democrats who kept the Union together in 2014 and it will be those same parties, plus the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green, as well as many TUC activists, who will be needed to rescue him in 2016 after Conservative supporters desert him. It is the Prime Minister’s good fortune that those foes have not attempted to extract any political concessions in return for their support.
Those in the Leave campaign can expect no such good grace from David Cameron and his associates. Widespread reports of Leave supporter Tory MPs being pressurised and threatened by Osborne, Cameron’s recent call to those same MPs to ignore the views of their constituency parties, his attempts to silence high profile party critics by enforcing collective Cabinet responsibility to back his negotiations long after the Remain supporters in government have been making their case, even his initial notion of getting a weekend start on dissenters by delaying the crucial Cabinet meeting approving his EU reform package until next Monday, all strongly suggest that the campaign will be anything but mannered and equitable, certainly as far as Downing Street is concerned.
Yet when David Cameron stands behind his big lectern on Friday proclaiming that he has clinched a deal (however compromised and prone to unravelling) in his negotiations with EU leaders in time for a late June referendum, he had better realise that the blarney, flim-flam and hyperbole which has always got him through in the past will this time be subjected to detailed scrutiny and forensic examination over the next four long months.
For a variety of reasons I still think that Remain will win, yet be in no doubt that before polling day Cameron will be forced to make further concessions to salvage a campaign where both he and the Establishment will often be outflanked and outwitted by opponents. But the discomfort of David Cameron, watching him duck and dive serious political engagement, and find out what it’s like to be relentlessly pilloried in the media, promises to be something to savour.